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Religion on Fire: Russia is destroying primarily its own Churches in Ukraine

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Jan Leonid Bornstein
Jan Leonid Bornstein
Jan Leonid Bornstein is investigative reporter for The European Times

Few days ago, the Ukrainian scholarly project “Religion on Fire” launched their interim report on the damages caused to religious buildings and facilities as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The report is based on the results of a monitoring that took place from February 24 to August 24, 2022, and as said before, it’s an interim report, meaning that more data are gathered, and the monitoring is continuing.

The project “Religion on Fire: Documenting Russia’s War Crimes against Religious Communities in Ukraine” was initiated in March 2022 by the Workshop for the Academic Study of Religion and supported by the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience, the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine, and the International Center for Law and Religious Studies at Brigham Young University (USA).

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate is the most touched by Russian destruction

The team, made of religious study scholars from Ukraine, documents the damages to religious facilities but also murders, injuries, and abductions of religious leaders of various denominations by the Russian military in Ukraine. They collect open source data and exclusive materials from field visits to the de-occupied territories.

One of the interesting things in their first findings, is that in fact, as regards the numbers of religious building destroyed or damaged in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC), which is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, is the most touched by the bombings of the Russian army. Indeed, 156 buildings of the UOC have been destroyed or damaged, against 21 of the Orthodx Church of Ukraine (independent from Moscow), 5 of the Greek and Roman Catholics, 37 protestant buildings, 5 mosques, 13 Jewish facilities. It’s interesting to note that according to the results of the Council of the UOC (MP) on May 27, 2022, this structure announced its withdrawal from the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Religion on Fire 2 1024x711 - Religion on Fire: Russia is destroying primarily its own Churches in Ukraine
Religion on Fire: Russia is destroying primarily its own Churches in Ukraine

20 religious figured killed by bombings or automatic weapons

They also collected data on 20 religious figures who died because of the Russian army, killed by bombings or shot with automatic weapons, and 15 religious figures abducted.

Of course, when documenting war crimes, the question of the intentionality is crucial. The report gives a beginning of answer about it: “Some religious facilities were hit by indiscriminate bombardment, while others were deliberately destroyed with machine guns or artillery. Currently, the official results of the investigation have not yet been published for most of the cases, but we can reasonably claim that the religious buildings were special targets of some attacks.”

It gives examples: “First of all, there are published testimonies of eyewitnesses who saw the targeted shelling of a religious facility via large-caliber machine guns or other weapons. It’s the case of St. George church in the village of Zavorychi (Kyiv region), which was built in 1873 and destroyed on March 7, 2022, by targeted fire21. In another case, there’re eyewitnesses of an aerial drone reconnaissance after the initial hit on the Irpin Bible Seminary on March 19, 2022. The next day, there was a repeated, more destructive shelling of the building.”

Religion on Fire 3 - Religion on Fire: Russia is destroying primarily its own Churches in Ukraine
Religion on Fire: Russia is destroying primarily its own Churches in Ukraine

Maintain International Attention to War Crimes

The scholars make 6 recommendations that they develop at the end of their report: 1. To support religious minorities, 2. To promote the documentation of war crimes, 3. To develop Ukrainian legislation, 4. To advocate for sanctions against Russian religious figures (who have been supporting the war and the propaganda of the Kremlin and regularly spread hate against Ukrainians), 5. To maintain international attention to war crimes. You can follow the project Religion on Fire here: https://www.mar.in.ua/en/religion-on-fire/

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